The ‘Uberisation’ of shipping?
A digital freight platform with a green conscience – in conversation with Shipnext’s Alexander Varvarenko. The transformation of the shipping market into a digital marketplace has been ongoing for decades. The range of possibilities quickly grows, however, when a platform such as Shipnext starts to measure emissions. The ITJ met up with Shipnext founder Alexander Varvarenko for our second discussion since 2014, addressing the growing influence of artificial intelligence on the industry.
What is the purpose of a digital freight platform? How does Shipnext work?
Shipnext is a freight platform that provides shipping solutions as well as information for customers who handle general cargo, dry bulk, heavylift consignments and oversized cargo, amongst many other types of freight. It has been designed to handle the endless stream of e-mails involved in the freight business and replace said e-mails with a digital marketplace option.
Our system combines e-mail processing based on natural language recognition, machine learning, and AI, with an A-to-Z sending platform. This integration enables freight search and tendering, trade facilitation and workflow automation for our customers. Put simply, we’ve done what Uber did with taxis.
How has Shipnext evolved since you last spoke to the ITJ in 2014?
Our platform has grown very significantly in the last nine years. Today, we have around 4,500 daily users worldwide, and we use tools such as real-time data processing and constant-learning algorithms to process more than 36,000 consignments and freight requests every day. We just recently added a function for liquid bulk goods, amongst other categories.
How will artificial intelligence shape the shipping industry of the future?
As there are only about 87,000 merchant ships in the world, the ‘Uberisation’ of shipping is a relatively simple endeavour. A chatbot can be used to process information such as consignment data, cargo quantities and requirements in port, for example, so that the system can make or support decisions. AI can indeed help transport.
What idea underpins your alternative emissions index?
Our ‘Shipnext Voyage Emission Index’ (SVEI) is designed to address industry concerns about the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) emissions-reduction measures.
The technical parameters of a ship, such as its speed, fuel consumption and actual cargo volume, are incorporated into models that can also demonstrate, amongst other things, that an older ship, for example, can indeed represent an environmentally sounder solution, if properly managed and fully utilised.
Do you collaborate with other associations and industry groups?
Yes. At this year’s Breakbulk Europe trade fair, for example, we entered into a partnership with the XL Projects Network, which will now provide its members with a one-year trial of the Shipnext system free of charge. This approach represents a sustainable model.
Where can we find out more about Shipnext’s developments?
Shipnext featured in a documentary series produced this year by the World Ocean Council, which is committed to strengthening corporate responsibility for the oceans. We were happy to be a part of that.